Friday, June 25, 2010

Canada - June 19th 2010

When I asked my work colleagues if anyone knew where I might find fiddleheads, they all gave one of their blank stares that really mean: here she goes again, what is she after this time? I work in a large open space and I am known for just stopping what I do an average of 10 times an hour and ask questions to the group at large (read: whoever is around that can hear). I thought that perhaps someone would have had fiddleheads before but as it turned out nobody even knew what they were.... they probably also thought I was making this up as it is a funny name for a vegetable really. But then again, I supposed one could say that zucchini is a funny name unless you're Italian, or pumpkin or broccoli. I mean if you had never heard it before, broccoli does sound funny, doesn't it? Imagine the Queen of England going to the grocery store (ok, you need to really focus on your imagination here) and asking: "One needs more fiber in one's diet. I shall have a lb of broccoli if you please!"

Fiddleheads are not only a funny sounding vegetable; they're also a funny looking one...

I needed them for one of my Canadian recipes but I could not find them anywhere and believe me, I looked: Atlanta Farmers Market, H Mart (new fun Korean supermarket just inside 285), Wholefoods, Publix, Kroger, Sevananda (local-organic-vegetarian coop) and not only nobody had them, nobody knew what they were. I could have purchased them from the web but as I usually do, I left it too late and didn't want to pay $25 to have them delivered to me the next day.

So, my only option was the faithful Google: fiddleheads substitution - - asparagus is the only thing that I could find that came close to being a good substitute. Do they eat asparagus in Canada? Check! OK, asparagus it is then.

Canadian food isn't something that brings much to mind when thinking of a cuisine.... it is not often that you hear anyone saying: I really fancy some Canadian food tonight; or shall we go to a Canadian restaurant? Moreover, it is such a big country (second largest in the world) and such a mixture of cultures that it becomes difficult to pin point what really makes a typical Canadian meal. When I was looking for inspiration for my invitation, I googled" typical Canadian dinner" and it came back with Kraft mac and cheese.... well, something like that anyway...

To help me out, Eric asked one of his colleagues in Montreal for advice and what she told him was actually really helpful in determining my menu: salmon, pork roast, maple syrup, potatoes, ice wine. At least I had a starting point. Now, she mentioned Canadian Bacon as a food group in Canada, and after some additional research I found out that this isn't the one we buy at the supermarket... well, to be honest I wouldn't think in Canada they call it Canadian Bacon like the French don't call fries French Fries... but how do they call Brussels Sprouts in Brussels? I'll let you Google that one yourself. Anyway, in Canada they eat this thing called "peameal" bacon, the name given by the flour obtained by yellow peas and rolled around the meat. Of course I had to get this! Naturally, not the kind of food you can find in your local supermarket (nor Atlanta Farmers Market, H Mart, Wholefoods, Publix, Kroger, Sevananda - duh, this last one only sells vegetarian food) so I simply had to make my own!

I found a recipe online to make my home cured peameal bacon and really all I needed to find was "Morton tender quick". Easy right? Wrong. Once again I had to go to a plethora of supermarkets and even went to the Cook's warehouse but it was only after checking on the Morton website that I finally found it at the Kroger in Decatur. This is not just salt. This thing can kill you: 3/4 of a teaspoon of this contains 1340mg of sodium (56% of the RDA). When I showed it to Dan after we ate the bacon, he nearly passed out right there. Now, Dan has an obsession with salt equaling my obsession with Google. Anyway, apparently to cure meat you need a lot of sodium. Possibly the reason why salami and prosciutto tend to be rather salty. I guess I'll die young as I am not giving up salami and prosciutto. To make the peameal bacon, you had to roll a pork loin in a mixture made of tender quick and brown sugar for 4 days and then roll the thing in cornmeal (even the recipe admitted that finding yellow pea flour was close to impossible nowadays...). Thankfully, I've finally learned to read the recipes at least a week before I actually cook them so that I can determine stuff that needs to be prepared in advance. Amazingly, it took me a long time and several oops on the day of the party to realize this simple fact. That's just the way I am.

I have been thinking that perhaps it would be better to have fewer people over so that I can actually catch up with all of them. I've got overexcited with the big table and I still really think it's the one piece of furniture that will follow me wherever I end up, but it really makes it hard to have a cozy dinner as you can't just pass the salt across the table - it's too wide, it needs to go around it! Naturally, I ended up having 9 people (me included) at dinner. It was supposed to be 8 (Dan, Peter, Jan, Jeff, Dot, Jim, Eric and I) but Ned came by in the afternoon to show off his latest midlife crisis toy (a beautiful Thriump motorbike) and so I invited him to join us for dinner. That's just the Italian in me. Can't stand the thought of me having dinner with a bunch of friends with the knowledge that one of my friends is at home eating solo (Melissa was out of town). Now it's OK if people are having dinner alone and I don't know. But that Catholic guilt, it kills me.

One of the French influences I noted as I was preparing my shopping list was the copious amount of butter I needed for the various dishes... I had to buy 2lbs of butter for this dinner. And you're worried about a bit of sodium?? The starter, Smoked Salmon Torta, was lovely but that was because the cream cheese was mixed with 1 stick of butter. I particularly liked the fresh dill, in Dan's words it was "dillicious". If Rachel Ray reads my blog she'll probably steal this one from Dan. Except she'll cut out a few letters so it can be ready in 30 mins. I served the torta with toasted baguette and it was a nice opening for a meal on such a HOT day!

I am a bit late in writing this blog. I have tried recently to write it one or two days after the actual dinner so the fun is still fresh in my mind and I can recall something everyone said (especially when they don’t write any comments on my new comment cards – Jim and Jeff!!) but I am going through a lazy spell and it's only a week later that I actually am sitting down in front of the computer to narrate the Canadian evening story. But something terrible has happened this week, so sad: Italy got kicked out of the World Cup... it really hurts. Then again it could have been worse: I could be French. Then I would have to really change my nationality or face the shame. So I am now officially rooting for the US who despite being deeply hated by the referees is plodding along nicely. I still hope - deep inside - that they don't make it to the final and that's because I vowed that if it happens Eric and I will postpone our trip to Fiji as we would want to be here to celebrate.

Close that parenthesis...

Together with the lovely torta, I also served Steamed Fiddleheads With Wild Leek Greens - except I replaced the fiddleheads with asparagus as I said earlier. Wild leek green, also known as wild garlic is just delicious. I found it at Wholefoods. Expensive it was - then most stuff is expensive at Wholefoods - but it really gave the sauce a lovely flavor (sauce was made with yogurt, mayo, mustard and the wild leek). It also went really well with the asparagus so I wonder how it would have been with the fiddleheads. Maybe one day I'll find them and try this recipe again. Everyone loved this dish. Even Eric (well he hates asparagus but he ate the sauce)! We ended up using the sauce again over some veggies at dinner during the week and it was still really good.

The main course was Maple Syrup Glazed Peameal Bacon. This was actually an entire dinner in itself as it was served with grilled sweet potatoes and apples smothered in the maple syrup mixture. Eric cooked it on the grill (he was brave enough to face the torrid heat and the vicious mosquitoes) and both the potatoes and the bacon had nice charred bits that gave it more flavor. Well, maybe the potatoes were a little too charred but the texture was nice. And maybe the tender quick on the bacon did work as the meat had a great flavor (yes Dan, too much salt, I know I know).

Naturally I felt I needed to accompany this dish (despite it being a full dinner) with something else so I also made Brussels Sprouts With Onion and Mustard Seeds and Tourtiere. The first dish was really supposed to be my alternative to the fiddleheads but when then I was able to find the wild leek I really wanted to try it... so I made both. I've got a mixture of comments on this dish: Dot said they were the best brussels sprouts she ever tasted but then again I am not sure she liked brussels sprouts to start with, Peter didn't particularly care for the sauce which was made with mustard, Ned particularly liked the combination of mustard and brussels sprouts although he had never had them before, Dan said he would have liked a touch of vinegar in the sauce. So as you can see, it's about personal preference... So I just do what I want and then just write the feedback... Of course, since I always publish the recipes, it would be interesting to see if anyone has ever tried to change them and then report back the results. Anyone?

The tourtiere is basically a meat pie from Quebec. The crust was really nice, ethereal in Dan's words... not surprising given that it was made using 1.5 sticks of butter and 3 tablespoons of lard! Very yummy indeed. The filling was tasty but I would agree with Peter's comment that it was a bit dry. I kept on cooking the sauce down but I probably should have left more liquid in it. Of course then it might not have been as flavorful but should I ever decide to make this again, I think I'll either add more chopped tomatoes or more broth. One thing to mention: it's darn difficult to work with this pastry. It is so fragile, it took me a while before I manage to get it flattened and in the pie pan without too many holes!

Finally dessert: Nanaimo Bars. The story around this dish is quite interesting because they are not a really old Canadian dish. In fact they were "invented" by a housewife from Nanaimo (it's a city in British Columbia) about 35 years ago. She entered and won a contest for chocolate squares in a magazine and apparently they became famous throughout Canada and since they were named after her home city, they also made the city famous (which implies it was one of those obscure places nobody even in Canada had heard of...). These no-bake, three layered bars are delicious. They start with a crumb base, followed by a layer of light custard buttercream, and then a smooth and glossy layer of semi sweet chocolate. If you like sweet and you like chocolate, you'll like these. Needless to say, they are made with 1.5 sticks of butter so they're not weight watchers' friendly but obviously I absolutely loved them - so did most of my guests! I had some leftovers (about 2000 calories worth) which I proceeded to eat on Tuesday evening after dinner. Oh dear. Unfortunately, the sugar rush they gave me prevented me from remembering to take a picture... so you'll just have to close your eyes and imagine what this 3 layers wonder would look like (or Google it).

Let's not forget the ice wine! Yes, I found a bottle that I could afford (this sucker can be really pricey) and I think it tastes like port or at any rate a sweet wine. I didn't dislike it but I would not rush to buy it again....

What I did remember to take a picture of this time was the goody bag containing homemade maple cookies (yum, these I will make again), a bottle of real Canadian maple syrup and a bottle of Labatt beer. I believe everyone appreciated the gifts and I hope they can make good use of the syrup for their pancake breakfasts (or to replicate my peameal bacon recipe).

Read the full menu and the scores:

Smoked Salmon Torta: 7.7
Steamed Asparagus With Wild Leek Greens: 9
Maple Syrup Glazed Peameal Bacon: 8.1
Brussels Sprouts With Onion and Mustard Seeds: 7.6
Tourtiere: 7.4
Nanaimo Bars: 7.3 (despite Eric giving it a 1 because he absolutely hates coconut)

Next time we sail to the Caribbeans: Dominica.

Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

Loved reading about the Canadian dinner. Would never have thought of these foods as Canadian. Didn't know the country was so unique. (I know what you mean about having a large table. But oh how nice it is for a party!) Well done! Susan

Anonymous said...

Sounds like another great dinner! We love reading your blog. Your write-up is great. Very descriptive. It makes us wish we were there.

Sorry about Italy :(

Kiyomi and Floyd

Giovanna said...

I finally made it again and read your report! I must take part of one of those dinners once in my life! You are just great, BRAVISSIMA!!
Tvb Giovanna

dan le said...

Bravissimi, I'm glad you and Eric are going to Fiji after all. Best ABC dinner ever! Your blog is really funny and useful.

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